William Selden "Bill" Todman (July 31, 1916 – July 29, 1979) was an American television and radio producer, best known for specializing in game shows.
Early Life and Education
William Selden "Bill" Todman was born on Monday, July 31, 1916 in New York City, New York. His parents were Frederick Simson (January 30, 1890-January 7, 1974) and Helena (nee Orlowitz) Todman (April 26, 1892-March 15, 1981), both New York born children of immigrants. Todman's paternal grandparents were born in Germany, and his maternal grandparents were born in Russia.
Todman's father was a well-known Wall Street Accountant. His father's accounting firm was known as Frederick S. Todman & Co. and for many years was located at 111 Broadway. Frederick S. Todman & Co. represented some of the United States biggest companies, including The New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange, Polaroid, Eastman Kodak and Chase Manhattan Bank, among many others. Frederick S. Todman lectured in post-WWII Japan as part of that country's economic reconstruction and wrote several books on Wall Street Accounting.
Todman was raised on Park Avenue with his younger brother, Howard, who was Vice President and Treasurer for Goodson-Todman Productions. He went to private schools, attended a military academy and visited Europe during the summers. "I was privileged," Todman said. "It can be detrimental as well as helpful."
As a child, Todman survived two bouts of rheumatic fever. The second time around, his parents took him to Switzerland to recuperate, where he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. This experience helped to establish his interest in medicine. "I have a terribly, terribly great regard for medicine," Todman said. Todman's son has described his father as having been "a bit of a hypochondriac".
Todman changed his name legally to William after his Uncle William, whom he was intended to be named after, passed away. He attended Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland, took a premed course and got his B.S. in chemistry and psychology in 1938.
Since he had written for the school paper he talked his way into a job as a junior copywriter with a small ad agency in the CBS building in New York City. "I was making very tiny money," he said, "so I ate in the cafeteria where the radio people hung out and got a job to free-lance a couple of scripts." Eventually, he became the head writer and director of The Connie Boswell Show. “He was always a writer,” said Todman's son Bill, Jr. “Even in college, he wrote plays, and for the newspaper. His creative calling got the best of him.”
Todman met Goodson in 1941 on the WABC radio quiz show, The Battle of the Boroughs, for which Todman was the writer and Goodson was the emcee. They discovered a shared interest in game shows and decided to partner. "Mark had an idea for a show called Winner Takes All" Todman recalled. "I changed it to Winner Take All. We auditioned the show for $15 including breakfast at Longchamps. And we went our way. In 1946 I called Mark. 'I got a sale,' I told him. Winner Take All was on for three 15-minute periods a week and $150." The pair's first quiz show, 'Winner Take All', premiered on CBS radio in 1946. They would go on to create four local radio quizzes: Hit the Jackpot, Spin to Win, Rate Your Mate, and Time's a Wastin'.
Winner Take All used a lockout buzzer system and was the first quiz show to pit two contestants against each other. It was also the first to have winners return each week until they were defeated, these firsts would later become the normal for nearly all game shows. Winner Take All also became the first Goodson-Todman television show, debuting on Thursday, July 8, 1948 on the CBS Television Network. What's My Line? soon followed on the same network, debuting on February 2, 1950. "Live television was like flying without a net," said Goodson. "We never knew what would happen. I remember Eddie Fisher as a mystery guest saying, 'Any rumors you hear that Elizabeth and I are breaking up are lies.' Another mystery guest, Judy Garland, had the show's staff chewing its nails when she wobbled in just before she was supposed to go on, with her hair in a riot of curlers, and promptly repaired to her dressing room. I was about to take her place," he contiunes, "when she came over to me and asked, 'How much time do we have?' I said, 'Fifteen seconds, Miss Garland,' and she replied, 'So what's the rush?' and walked onstage."
Quiz shows had been popular on radio through the 1940's, and they were just as popular with TV executives, thanks to costing little to produce and merchandise prizes were furnished for free by manufacturers in return for plugs. A well-known and oft-repeated story had Goodson and Todman carrying prizes for Winner Take All from their office to the studio, when Todman slipped sending small appliances clattering to the sidewalk. Writer Goodman Ace witnessed the accident and yelled, "Hey, Todman, you dropped your script!"
After "What's My Line?" Goodson-Todman began to turn-out game shows just like a factory line. Classic favorite Beat the Clock (1950-61), was followed with By Popular Demand (1950), It's News to Me (1951-54), The Name's the Same (1951-55), I've Got a Secret (1952-67), Two for the Money (1952-57), Judge for Yourself (1953-54), Whats Going On? (1954), Make the Connection (1955), Choose Up Sides (1956), To Tell the Truth (1956-68), The Price Is Right (1956-65), Play Your Hunch (1959-63), and Split Personality (1959-60). By 1958, Goodson and Todman had become the most successful packagers in television and would become the most prolific game show producers of the 1950s.
Goodson and Todman also produced other fields of television programs, including anthologies, The Web (1950-54), The Richard Boone Show(1963-64) and Goodyear Theater (1957–1960); westerns, Jefferson Drum (1958-59), The Rebel (1959-61) and Branded(1965-67); crime drama, Philip Marlowe (1959-60); and possibly the company's biggest failure, One Happy Family (1961), a sitcom. “They wanted to expand their horizons; nobody wants to be pigeonholed,” says Andrew J. Fenady, who produced the westerns with them. Todman was an avid rider and a western fan, and where the shows were concerned, “You could talk to him any time,” Fenady says “He was there if we needed something. And the Goodson-Todman accounting was impeccable. We never went over budget, and we made a lot of money from their honest bookkeeping. They were very, very fair-minded partners.” Todman also expanded the company beyond television, into ownership of newspapers, radio stations and New York real estate.
Despite his creativeness, Todman, an accountant’s son, became known as the businessman of the two. As he told Sports Illustrated’s Gilbert Rogin, “I’m primarily involved in being a sounding board. Basically, Mark’s in charge of production, I handle the contracts, sales, economy, budget; the minutiae. We complement each other.” Bob Stewart added that “Bill was the guy who would talk to the agents, to business affairs. The ability, in those days, to negotiate with the networks was a very special skill. When we approached them with an idea, there was a real open atmosphere. They welcomed us in nicely. Once they showed an interest in something we pitched, Bill would come in and do the negotiations. He was very instrumental in that company becoming very, very wealthy. He was also a great guy to be with socially.”
Socially, Stewart said that Todman had a “certain kid quality, sort of a delight,” which he believed helped foster an attraction to game shows and which, he said, was on display at Christmas parties. People mattered to Todman, Lisa Todman says that he was a hands-on father, while Bill, Jr., calls him the “go-to guy, if anybody had any issues or problems.” As Goodson once described: “Bill is kind, generous, somewhat dismayed by me. We have our own groups, but we are certainly friends. He would be the man I’d come to instantly in time of trouble. My tendency is to give a man a raise according to his merit. The way to get a raise from Bill is to need it.”
The 1960s saw the continued success of Goodson-Todman. Brand new shows premiered like Number Please (1961), Password (1961-67), Say When!! (1961–1965), Missing Links (1963–1964), Get the Message (1964), Call My Bluff (1965), Snap Judgment (1967–1969), He Said, She Said (1969–1970), and The Match Game (1962–1969). Other Goodson-Todman classics came to end, but three of the classics, What's My Line? (1968–1975), Beat the Clock (1969–1974), and To Tell the Truth (1969–1978), were revived in the same decade and all three saw huge ratings.
The 1970s saw even larger success for Goodson-Todman. New shows included Now You See It (1974–1975), Tattletales (1974–1978), Showoffs (1975), Double Dare (1976–1977), Family Feud (1976–1985), The Better Sex (1977–1978), Card Sharks (1978–1981), Password Plus (1979-82), and Mindreaders (1979–1980). Revivals of Password (1971–1975), I've Got a Secret (1972–1973 and 1976), The Price Is Right (1972–present), Match Game (1973–1982), Beat the Clock (1979–1980), and the Barry-Enright game show Concentration (1973–1978). By early 1978 Goodson-Todman was producing 10 shows on 3 different networks.
Todman, who had a history of heart problems, died two days before his 63rd birthday, on Sunday, July 29, 1979 in New York City, New York, during heart valve replacement surgery. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. At the time of his death he was survived by his wife, Frances, and two children, Lisa and Bill, Jr.
Bob Barker says that “He was a delightful man. He personified a man you might aspire to be: a gentleman, personable, successful, handsome and very intelligent. He had the attributes to sell you anything, and the intelligence to sell it beautifully. On one of my first days there, we chatted alone. His kindness and flattering remarks, that he’d admired my work [as host of Truth or Consequences] made me feel very comfortable, very much at home.”
“With the original group of programs, it was always answering questions,” Lisa Todman said, on why game shows appealed to her father. “He was like a sponge. No matter what the topic was, if there was knowledge, he was interested. He had a marvelous sense of humor, and he liked fun,” she added. “That also drew him. But it was mainly answering questions — and you were probably out of luck if you thought you were going to beat him at it.”
After Todman's death, Goodson acquired the Todman heirs' share of the company, and in 1982 the company was renamed Mark Goodson Productions. Todman was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011.
|4. Nathan Todman (born about 1854)|
|2. Frederick Simson Todman (1890-1974)|
|5.Hannah ______ (born about 1856)|
|1. Wilbur Todman (1916-1979)|
|6. Bernhard Orlowitz (born January 1866)|
|3. Helena Orlowitz (1892-1981)|
|7. Rebecca Katz (born February 1874)|
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